Even with Sandor Clegane serving as her sworn shield, Sansa could not be made to feel safe in the Red Keep. It mattered not that her brother had been declared Azor Ahai reborn by Queen Daenerys, at once a mystical reincarnation of both wolf and the blood of the dragon. It did not matter to her that all her enemies were dead and buried, or more often than not, sent to the Seven hells by dragonfire.
The castle was now the home of her brother and the queen, and had been refashioned in its entirety since Sansa was held there by the Lannisters. But the change in scenery did little to assuage the young woman's fears. The ghosts of her tormentors lurked around every corner, recalling memories of horrors past until she felt veritably forced back into the cage from which Sandor had freed her so long ago.
Despite her best efforts, she knew she would never come to view the castle as anything other than her former prison. Ever loyal to her family, she had sworn to do her duty by her brother and the queen by helping Daenerys gain support of the northern lords after the Great War. Every night since she arrived, Sansa trembled as Sandor escorted her to her rooms, and each night he never failed to offer to steal her away just as he did long ago.
"I could take you to Winterfell. I'll keep you safe." Sandor rasped against her ear as the reached her door, his grating tone echoing against the marble walls in spite of his attempt at secrecy. "Do you want to go home?"
She was a creature of the north and Sansa knew that despite all that happened, her heart would forever belong there. She wanted nothing more than leave King's Landing behind her, but honor ran deep in the young woman. After all Daenerys had done for the Starks, she would not risk offending her, not even for her own sake. As Sandor stared into her eyes, Sansa dutifully repeated to him what she had told herself these many moons.
"You know I cannot," she whispered softly, tracing small circles over his studded jerkin. "I promised Jon that I would try. It is for our family."
Scoffing, Sandor tipped her chin to face him. "Bugger that nonsense, Little bird. That dragon lady didn't live here with Joffrey and Cersei. Neither did your brother. They know not what they were asking, wanting you to come back here." Sandor turned away from her and spit in disgust. "How could they? But I did. For all your begging, I should have never agreed to bring you back to this shithole."
Sansa had long ago learned to overlook his rough tongue. "Like it or not, Daenerys is family to me now, and I must do my part to assist her." When he remained silent, she added, "Sandor, I owe my brother that much. She gave my family Winterfell-she made Jon her heir to the throne! You cannot expect me to ignore her generosity just because I am not at ease. It would be an affront."
"You don't owe her your soul, gods damn it. You best believe if it was a matter of her comfort she wouldn't hesitate to leave this fucking place." Drawing a deep breath, Sandor turned to face her and took her hands in his. "I don't care about a single bloody thing here, only you. I'll take you away; just say the word and it's done."
"If only I could," Sansa whispered while staring at their entwined fingers, not daring to meet his smoldering gaze. Sandor loosened his hold, tracing her jawline with the tip of his finger until slowly she raised her eyes to him.
"You need not fear anyone, Sansa. I'll always keep you warm and safe, and guard you with my sword. You know that." His expression was unreadable, intense and full of something Sansa could not quite name.
She felt the color rise to her cheeks as she regarded him, the only man who ever cared for her alone, and not her claim. "I do, Sandor, and I am truly grateful."
Sandor remained silent, his deep gray eyes glittering as he approached her. Slowly he glided his hands over her back and down the swell of her hip, resting them there. "Your princely brother made me a lord, Little bird, remember?" Swiftly he closed the distance between them and pulled her against his body. "I think it's time I made that bloody title worth something."
The unexpectedness of his movement and sudden close proximity drew a gasp from Sansa's lips, making her feel flushed and light headed. He was so very warm and powerful, and she never felt safer than when she was in his arms. She had done all she could to encourage him and yet after all this time he never did more than kiss her.
What could he possibly be thinking of doing now? And since when did that title he hated so much matter to him? Jon had insisted he take it because of his acts of valor during the Great War, and felt it more fitting for her sworn shield to be a titled man.
Sansa finally found her voice, her answer sounding far breathier than she intended. "Sandor, whatever do you mean?"
Grinning wickedly, he opened her door. "Don't you mean 'my lord'?" He sneered, ushering her inside. "You'll find out soon enough, lass. Get some rest. I'm off to speak to your brother."
Standing before Jon in his fine woolen tunic, leather breeches and stiff boots with his hair combed carefully over the burned side of his face, Sandor Clegane never felt like more of a fool in his life. Even after all the he spent years serving Robert, upon returning to the Red Keep the scarred man soon found the formality of daily life in court grated on his nerves worse than ever. He hated everything about it, but if being a lord held any advantage at all for him with the Little bird, then fuck him sideways, he would use it.
"I need to speak with you, Your Grace, about the little b-that is to say, Lady Sansa." Bloody hells but he was off to a bad start.
"Oh yes? Do come in, Lord Clegane" Jon grinned, motioned for him to take a seat. He could not resist needling his sister's sworn shield. "Is everything quite well?"
Sniffing, Sandor drew in a deep breath before shifting uncomfortably on his feet. "I would ask your leave to speak plainly, Your Grace."
Sandor's unease did not escape Jon's notice. "Certainly, Sandor; what is on your mind?"
"Your Grace, Sansa endured more hell in this place than you know. I did what I could for her at the time but it wasn't enough. I'll wager she's never offered to tell you of it-she's always been too much of a proper lady." His words came out harsh, angry, and Sandor figured to count himself lucky if the prince didn't feed him to one the dragons.
"Continue, please." Jon had always feared there was far more that happened than Sansa would say. Many times since their reunion he implored her to tell him of it, to allow him to right the wrongs done to her. To his great dismay, however, she never could bring herself to go into particulars. He knew she was having difficulty adjusting to life at the castle but when he asked her about it, she never complained.
"Let me make it clear that I'm not here at Sansa's bidding and I bloody well won't break her confidence by telling you of her trials, then or now. I've tried holding my tongue but it's time you see your sister as the woman she is and not the child you knew growing up. She wants to help you and the queen, but believe me when I say this fucking place is no good for her."
"What would you have me do?" Jon asked, sensing the man before him had his own ideas.
The burned side of Sandor's mouth twitched several times before he replied. "I believe she would be better off going back north-with me."
Jon sat up straight, struggling to suppress a smile. He had long since discovered Sansa's affection for her scarred protector but so far Sandor had managed to hide any signs of his own feelings on the matter. "With you-that is your suggestion? And how would that look to the young handsome lords all vying for her hand with the queen?"
"With all due respect, I don't give one red piss about what any of those buggering bastards think about it, Your Grace," Sandor growled out harsher than he meant. "I only think of Sansa's safety."
Raising his eyebrow, Jon pressed further. "What of her happiness? Do you think of that."
Gritting his teeth, Sandor nods gravely. "Aye, that too."
Folding his arms, Jon rose to his feet. "Now I will be the one to speak plainly, Sandor; what is it you are asking of me?"
"I would ask for her hand in marriage, Your Grace. I wish to return north with Sansa as my lady wife."